Culbin Forest was once a vast area of shifting sand dunes. Prior to that the hinterland was once fertile farmland, but was gradually covered in loose sand, particularly during a wind-storm in 1694. The area remained largely dune desert for two centuries, sometimes referred to as “Scotland’s Sahara”. The land was purchased by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s and they started to ‘fix’ the dunes by planting marram grass alongside the trees. This scheme was only partly successful and the sand was still shifting. Eventually a more successful method proved to be thatching the sand by brushwood, which as well as preventing the sand from blowing away also provided humus to the soil as it decayed.
Today the mature plantations of Scots and Corsican pines are dotted with birches, broom, brambles and a forest floor layer of grasses, heather, mosses and lichen. The whole forest is criss-crossed with an network of tracks and several paths lead to the sea.
Neil and I choose to explore some of these tracks by bike/on foot. As on a few previous occasions this summer, we’ve found we can enjoy joint outings when I do my ‘long, slow run’ and Neil accompanies me on mountain bike. He acts as my Chief Support Person, as he can cycle ahead to check the map at track junctions, carry my water and take photos.
We started today’s run from the car park at Cloddymoss, near Kintessack, Moray and headed north-west. We took a small path off the track to emerge from the forest at the sea in an area known as The Gut. This is a mudflat and salt-marsh area protected from the open sea by the long bar of sand dune.
After returning to the main track , we headed east for a couple of kilometres, then left the main track again this time heading inland. Neil dumped the bike and we followed an narrow path to climb steeply up to Culbin’s highest hill. Named Hill 99 by the foresters who planted the trees, the summit is marked by a trig point.
There is also a viewing tower here and we ran/walked up here to see the views. From here we had excellent views over the trees to the salt marsh and sand banks and beyond to the hills on the far side of the Moray Firth and also inland towards the Cairngorm.
After descending from this high point we took another detour to the sea at the eastern end of The Gut. Here there are a series of poles protruding from the mud/sea at regular intervals right across the Gut. The poles were placed here to discourage enemy gliders from landing in advance of an enemy invasion feared from Norway.
After about 11 kilometres we headed back, this time taking a track that ran to the south of Hill 99.
We passed some timber harvesting and were pleased to see the Forestry Commission (or contractors) use a sign to indicate the way was open when they were not actually working there.
I wish the contractors in our local forest used such an informative sign.
For the final few kms we veered off the main track and followed a delightful grassy track that meandered past the blooming heather under the Scots pines.
More photos on Flickr
Here are several short videos by the Forest Commission showing the planting of Culbin Forest: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-7F3HUW